The change was instant. As dim as the woods had seemed before, they were even darker now, and when I looked up I could no longer see the sky above me, but it didn’t seem like it was day anymore. When I turned back I could still see the castle, and it was even still day there, but everything past the fence was foggy and seemed distant. Baron stepped through behind me, and as he stepped through he became clearer. It was a strange thing to watch, and I turned back to look at the woods instead.
The feeling of power was intensified here, and I felt other kinds of magic besides the trees. The trees were tall, and it almost seemed like they moved every time I looked away from them. There was a clear path leading away from the fence, but it branched off the further we moved from the fence. Everything about this place seemed unnatural to me, and I was very glad that I wasn’t alone.
Lilith was leading now, and no matter how many times the trail split she never seemed unsure of where to go. It was quiet as we walked, quieter than any forest ought to be, and while we saw no creatures of any kind, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were being watched. The forest didn’t change as we walked, and the only way I could tell that we’d moved was that I could no longer see the fence behind me, which didn’t really make me feel any better. I almost thought we must have gotten lost, but the others showed no signs of unease past their extra alertness.
I don’t know how long we walked for. As far as I can tell, time is completely meaningless in the Otherworld. Eventually, we came to a clearing with a large mansion in it. It was a wooden building, with lots of windows and at least three floors. The whole building was ringed with a hedge in place of flower beds, and I started to worry about how we would actually be able to get into a window. Baron gently pushed me down into a crouch, and Lilith led us through the bushes and around the side of the clearing, slowly creeping closer to the building as we went.
At every door, there were two large, ugly, green-skinned figures, all taller than any human I’d ever seen, and I realized they must have been the trolls Lilith had mentioned. We stopped when we were about ten feet from the nearest door, which was finally close enough that I could start to smell the trolls guarding it, and I scrunched up my nose in distaste. Trolls smell like a combination of wet dog, dirty socks, and cow patties, but ten times worse than all three. I don’t know how anyone could stand to work with them when they smell so terrible, but maybe evil doing dulls your sense of smell?
Nixie pulled on her borrowed amulet, then pointed to a window that was a safe distance from any troll guards and on the first floor. Then she crept off towards the trolls, and Lilith led Baron and me towards the window to wait. I couldn’t see the door anymore once we made it to the group of bushes across from our entry point, but I could just hear Nixie’s voice as she asked the trolls to let her in.
There was a lot of shuffling, and one of the clubs the trolls had clattered to the ground. I was worried the amulet might not have worked, or that things may have escalated into a fight somehow, but then the scrape of the door could be heard, and Nixie called out her thanks before it swung shut. The trolls took a few minutes to re-situate themselves, and the shuffling resumed.
Lilith and Baron had some sort of silent conversation, then Lilith shifted to crow form and flew across the short length of yard to take refuge behind the hedge. Baron nodded at me, and then at the hedge, and I frowned at him in response. I couldn’t fly over a hedge, and there was no way I was going to climb that thing without damaging it. Lilith poked her head back over the hedge, once more in human form, and gestured for us to hurry up. Baron nudged me forward, and after checking that the coast was still clear, I sprinted across the yard towards the hedge. Baron followed me, and he and Lilith lifted me across the hedge so fast I didn’t even have time to protest. Baron flew over the hedge next and landed on my shoulder, and the three of us waited for Nixie to let us in.
It didn’t take long, once we were in position. The window swung open above our heads, and Nixie peeked out at us with a grin. “Come on in!”
Lilith grinned back at her, then jumped through the window like it was nothing. Baron hopped off my shoulder and flew in after her, and Nixie leaned out further to help me through before shutting the window behind us.
“I can’t believe that worked,” Lilith said, only grinning when Nixie glared at her.
“Of course it worked, it was a good plan,” Nixie said, marching off down the hall. “Now come on, I heard some servants saying the Caretaker was on the third floor.”